Pepper’s Gifts

by | Jun 8, 1998 | Christmas, Gifts

As Bobby and Jill entered the classroom, the instructor took attendance, and quickly realized that there were two Robert’s in the class. My son Bobby, and Lena’s son, Robert. The instructor asked the young men if it was okay to call them “Salt” and “Pepper.” The guys laughed and agreed that it was okay. From that day on they were known as “Salt” and “Pepper,” and a special bond of friendship developed between them. To this day they are still lovingly referred to as “Salt” and “Pepper.”

Bobby came home from class, but he didn’t talk about what he was learning. He talked about “Pepper.” He excitedly talked about this new guy that he had met; his sense of humor, his good nature, and his big red motorcycle. Within a few days he was asking me to come to their office and go to lunch with them so I could meet “Pepper.” I balked at Bobby’s suggestion. Why do I need to meet him? He’s your friend; you work with him, what’s so special about “Pepper” that I should have lunch him?

Bobby continued to rave about “Pepper” each day after work and he also continued to pester me to come for lunch. I finally relented to Bobby’s request and I agreed to go to lunch and meet the young man that had enthralled my son.

I picked them up outside their office and drove a short distance to the small restaurant that was to become our meeting place for the next several weeks. “Pepper” was everything that my son said he was and more. I noticed that he listened when Bobby talked to him, I mean really listened! “Pepper” was 38 years old as compared to my son’s very young 22 years, and I saw that Bobby looked up to him as sort of a big brother, as well as a friend. “Pepper” offered his advice and Bobby listened intently. I believed that this was just what my son needed in his life, a good friend. After lunch and seeing the two of them together, I knew that “Pepper” was that good friend.

Pepper told jokes throughout the entire lunch, but he also talked about his family. His beautiful mother, his dad, his sisters and his nieces. I was really impressed when he showed me a picture of his family. I thought that it was so unlike a guy to show pictures, as it is usually women who show pictures. However, Pepper was not just any guy, and we would all learn that as our lunches continued over the next few weeks. In fact it was Pepper who named us the “Lunch Bunch” when he suggested that meet once a week as a foursome.

Sadly, Pepper was taken from us this past April in an accident. I could not understand if there was a God so loving and giving, how could He take someone from this earth that was loved and needed by so many others? My son, Bobby, Jill and I felt cheated. There could not be a “Lunch Bunch” without Pepper. It was not fair. We were angry and we were hurt! I questioned God’s existence. If there was a God, was this His way of loving us?

After several phone calls to Pepper’s girlfriend, Janice, I was in awe of her strength and well being. I could not help but think what did she have that I did not? Could it be her Faith in the Lord? I had called Janice to see how she was doing and to offer her comfort in her time of loss, and yet it was she who comforted me. Something was wrong with this picture. But what? I spoke to my son many times over the next couple of weeks and he reminded me of Tony; the tall gentleman that we passed briefly in the driveway of the cemetery after Pepper’s funeral. I vaguely remembered him even though Bobby had introduced us. Bobby told me that Tony was his co-worker, Omar’s father. At the time of the introduction I was crying, and the only thing that Tony said to me was, “I don’t have a problem with this! I know that I’m going to see him again!”

Wrapped within my grief and feeling sorry for myself for the loss of my friend I had no clue what Tony meant, and I don’t think at that moment that I even cared what he meant.

However, a few weeks had passed, and the sorrow that I felt was still very fresh and heavy upon my heart. Bobby suggested that I call Tony and talk to him. Bobby said that Tony was a Deacon in the church where Pepper went. I could not imagine why I would need or want to talk to Tony, let alone the Deacon of a church that I had never heard of. Was my son telling me something? Did he know something that I didn’t? I did call Tony and I asked if I could talk to him. Tony invited me to his home the following evening, as he explained that they were having a Bible study at his home and he would like me to join him there.

My first reaction was to tell Tony that Wednesday was not good for me however, a little voice in the back of my mind urged me to go. Little did I know that this too, was a Blessing in disguise.

I wish I could remember the entire conversation that I had with Tony that evening, although there is one thing that does stand out in my mind. Tony quoted Revelations 21:4: “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

At that moment I couldn’t fully comprehend the meaning of that particular Bible verse, and yet I knew the message that Tony was trying to convey. Tony asked me if I thought that it was an accident that my son, Bobby and Jill had met Pepper? He asked if I thought if it was also an accident that my son insisted that I meet Pepper too. He asked me if I thought if it was just by chance that I called him and was now sitting on his front porch talking to him.

What? Chance? Fate? Accident? I didn’t have a clue what Tony was talking about and I really wished he wouldn’t talk in riddles. It would have been much simpler for Tony to tell me this was all God’s plan. That everything that had transpired over the past few weeks was meant to happen!

I still didn’t fully understand what Tony meant until he asked me if I believed in God. Did I have the Lord Jesus Christ in my life and in my heart? Oh, so this is what it’s all about. God and my faith, or perhaps my lack of faith. The lesson was finally sinking in. If we have faith and trust in One so loving and giving, how could we not feel His strength, tenderness and love in our times of need? If I didn’t have the Lord Jesus Christ in my life, I would have nothing but continued unhappiness, pain and sorrow.

The realization of what was missing from my life had finally sunk in, as Tony and I left the chilly front porch and went inside to where a group of people had gathered for their Bible study. Tony introduced me to Pastor Shirley Smalls and with her hands wrapped tightly around my own she prayed for me and asked God to forgive my sins, as I accepted Him into my heart and my life.

And the rest they say, is history. However, a history that would have never been without “Pepper.” As my family and I celebrate Christmas this year, the birth of our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ, we too will be celebrating Pepper’s life and all the gifts that he has given to us.

So to all you of: his parents, his sisters, his family, and his many wonderful loving friends, I ask you to celebrate with me this year, and as we rejoice and celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, let’s also remember and celebrate the life of Robert C. “Pepper” Harper. Pepper opened the door for me to find, to love, and to serve our Lord Jesus Christ. Truly he has given me the most precious gift of all. Thank you,Pepper!

May God be with you always.

Helen M. Hoff-Winn

I have lived in central New Jersey all of my life. Married for 27 years to Bob, mother of Robert, and Mom-Mom to 4 month old Robbie. I work part time for a chiropractic health and wellness center, and for the past couple of years I have enjoyed writing poetry and short stories.


Pepper’s Gifts